Tourism: Lions in West Africa hunted almost into Extinction with about 34 Lions left in Nigeria

LionAid Lion

After a marked decline in recent years, experts have said the West African lion is on the verge of extinction.

According to The Guardian, a report by UK-based conservation group LionAid, said as few as 645 lions remain in the wild in western and central Africa. It says lions are extinct in 25 African nations and virtually extinct in 10, and it estimates that 15,000 wild lions remain on the continent as a whole, compared with about 200,000 30 years ago, with as few as 34 remaining in the whole of Nigeria.

Although lions are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, lion populations in West Africa are particularly small and fragmented and have been recently classified as critically endangered.

Recent genetic studies have highlighted the difference between lions in West and Central Africa from those in southern and East Africa, suggesting that lions in West and Central Africa may merit distinct taxonomic status. Formerly widespread across northern Nigeria, today’s lions survive in only two sites in the country: Kainji Lake National Park and Yankari Game Reserve.

According to World Conservation Society (WCS), more than 90 per cent of the lion’s original range has now been lost across Africa. The main threats facing lions today are: habitat loss and degradation, reduction of wild prey and retaliatory and other illegal killing of lions. Habitat loss has led to some populations becoming small and isolated, especially in West Africa. It is estimated that fewer than 50 lions survive in Nigeria.

READ: Africa: Cameroon alleges that Lions and Elephants from Gashaka Gumti Park in Nigeria have been destroying Farms

The group attributes the decline to increasing human populations, and the spread of subsistence and commercial-scale agriculture; latterly, climate change is also playing a role, and corridors connecting populations are being lost due to the spread of development, agriculture, and of large infrastructure projects. This has led to some populations becoming small and isolated, especially in West Africa.

“In Nigeria this precipitous decline is linked to severe depletion of their natural prey base due to hunting and habitat loss. With the loss of their natural prey lions have little option but to feed upon domestic livestock, the increase in human-lion conflict inevitably results in their direct persecution – typically by poisoning livestock carcasses. At the same time, human population growth and agricultural expansion is causing an unprecedented influx of nomadic livestock into protected areas as alternative grazing reserves disappear.”

“There has been a catastrophic decline in the populations of lions in Africa, and particularly West Africa,” Dr. Pieter Kat, trustee of LionAid reportedly said.

“These lions have been neglected for a very long time and do not have adequate protection programs. They are in real danger of extinction.” The LionAid report said West Africa faces particular challenges due to high levels of poverty, lack of political interest in conservation and an underdeveloped wildlife tourism industry.

“Even though the national parks in West Africa contain very distinct and very important fauna compared to eastern Africa, people tend to ignore that West Africa is a very special place,” Kat said.

“As a result the populations in West Africa are declining so quickly, as a biologist I would say that in a country like Nigeria, which has only 34 lions left, they are already extinct. It’s almost impossible to build up a population from such a small number.”

Director of the Lion Recovery Fund (LRF), Dr. Peter Lindsey, said: “Bushmeat poaching is the illegal hunting of wildlife for meat, either for local consumption or for sale. Such hunting is often illegal because it is done within protected areas, without a license, with the use of prohibited traps and snares, or a combination of these reasons.

He stressed that efforts are needed to engage the communities that live around, and in some cases within, protected areas to position them as allies in conservation and as custodians of nature. Lindsey called proper managed community conservation areas and creating incentives for people to protect and benefit from living wildlife, rather than by converting it to bushmeat.



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